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Radicalism, its deep-rooted causes, and an effective de-radicalization agenda

Ruby Amatulla


The ‘war on terror’ –basically a militaristic approach towards radicalism – initiated by the Bush administration after 9/11 (2001) has largely failed, in spite of spending hundreds of billions of dollars by the Western powers for almost two decades. Radicalism has substantially increased since then. Prominent leaders and military generals in the world concede that ‘there is no military solution to radicalism’, its deep-rooted causes must be addressed.  


This is not to suggest that a military involvement is not necessary at all. Rather, what it says is: in order for a military involvement to succeed, it needs to be subservient to and decided by a broader constructive and diplomatic undertaking that addresses the causes and cures of radicalism. Such as has been undertaken in Tunisia after the Jasmine Revolution in 2011: limited, but decisive actions, time to time, by the state security forces while the government and the society continuously working on the conflict resolutions and the governance issues to address the reasons of radicalism. Previously a deeply radicalized, polarized, dysfunctional society, that was close to the threshold of a ‘civil war’; after the revolution, however, under a visionary leadership, Tunisia has amazingly transformed itself. As the Islamists and secularists, previously rivals, now cooperating with each other to help build a functioning democracy, the entire nation is also transforming and building a consensus for democracy. This is the process that is integrating the nation and, effectively, invalidating and defeating radicalism. 


History is a testament to the fact that undeniable root causes of any rebellion are: repressive rule, exploitation, and extreme wealth divide, humiliation, and hopelessness.  When a rebellion uses an ideology such as that of communism, nationalism, or that of a religion to strengthen its movement, it turns into radicalism. The fighters that fought in a revolution, like that of the French Revolution, Russian Revolution, all were once called radicals.


Now, regarding the radicalism that emerged from the Middle East and spreads across the Muslim world, and manifests its vicious face all over the world, did not exist before Israel was established in 1948 and the Cold War started in the early 1950s.


The two episodes and their continuing destructive paths have enormously contributed to the Arab radicalism for the following reasons: 1. America’s extremely biased policies in favor of Israel, enabling the latter to occupy the Palestinian lands and to repress the people in a colonial-apartheid style for almost four long decades. This ‘epic injustice’ in our time is increasingly becoming extreme and careless in its nature. The denial of basic human rights, especially the right to self-determination, and rampant and continuous death and destruction have created the backdrop that is a major source of fuel to the inferno of hate and anger among the vast growing young generations not only in the Middle East but also in the Muslim world. It has become an icon of injustice and oppression in our time. As James Baker, the former Secretary of State, emphatically pointed out that America cannot be a part of the solution and a genuine peace process in the Middle East as long as it remains as ‘Israel’s lawyer’. The world concurs with this view.


2.The second one is less visible but more profound in its effects: The Western policy, since the Cold War started, under the heavy influence of the neoconservatives (neocons) like the Dulles brothers of the United States of America in the 1950s, aims to sabotage or hinder democracy in many Muslim majority societies, especially that of the Middle East. This is the root cause of radicalism.


Radicalism cannot take root and grow in a well-governed society. All major terrorist organizations, like al-Qaeda, al-Shabab, Boko Haram, sprang up in a dysfunctional state of a repressive authoritarian regime or no functional government, chaos, rampant corruption, incessant violation of human rights, etc. The key factor behind the emergence of the Islamic State is the marginalization and disenfranchisement of Sunnis in Iraq after the American invasion in 2003.


During the Cold War, taking full advantage of the paranoia of the Western public of an imminent nuclear confrontation, the brothers embarked on a vicious agenda of overthrowing democratically elected leaders, such as that of Iran in 1953, and replaced them with authoritarian rulers, in the name of maintaining ‘stability’ and fighting communism.


The long-term consequence of this counterproductive policy was, finally, admitted by the then Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, before an Arab audience in 2005. She confessed that her country (USA) has, for the last sixty years, sacrificed democracy (meaning either sabotaging or obstructing democracy) for stability in the Muslim world and it had not worked, both democracy and as a result, stability could not be achieved.  


By nature, the brothers were the vanguards of the multinationals (who more often than not,  profit from exploiting other societies) and champions of the ‘military-industrial complex’ (who gain by creating conflicts, wars, bribing armies of other countries and selling arms). The brothers were also the staunchest allies of the foreign dictators because the latter was ready to deliver what the neocons ever wanted: suppressing any popular movement and agreeing to lucrative deals to their Western vested interests at the cost of the interests and welfare of their own peoples. These vested interest groups in different places created the enormously powerful transnational alliances. The Dulles brothers left behind a groomed generation of neocons to carry on their torch of establishing American hegemony abroad. This has been a counterproductive agenda that has been draining trillions of dollars of the American taxpayers’ money ever since.


The lucrative deals the transnational alliances of vested interests can get from an authoritarian regime, they generally cannot get from a representative government. This is the root reason why these transnational alliances work closely with the neocons in Washington to work against democracy in the Muslim world. The Muslim world, for the most of the last century and until recently, possessed and controlled about 76% of the oil reserves of the world and other valuable resources. It still possesses enormous levels of oil and other natural resources. Therefore, it is self-evident that the neocons do not like democracy to flourish in many Muslim majority societies.


However, that has been a costly and counterproductive path. If America could have retained the trust and confidence it earned pursuing the path of Woodrow Wilson, and later, President Franklin D. Roosevelt of helping liberate others and spreading democracy as the way to peace and stability, the superpower could have achieved many of its objectives in the world at the fraction of the price it paid.


One glaring example is the extremely costly war in Vietnam. The entire war could have been avoided had President Truman and his successor worked with Ho Chi Minh when the latter really wanted to work with America. Ho was an ally of America during the World War II, after the war if only $ 500 million was given to help Vietnam to build its war-torn economy, and earn its freedom from the French colonial rule, as was suggested by a State Department official stationed in that part of the world and knowledgeable about the country well, America could have saved 2000 times of that money it had to spend later in the war. The war that was lost along with 55,000 American lives for over a decade long painful episode. When one sacrifice principles for convenience, sacrifice long-term solution for short-term fixes, the consequence is counterproductive and costly. Under the heavy influence of the emerging neoconservatives (neocons) on the political scene, Truman was asked to “scare the hell out of the nation” and he did. He abandoned the path of his immediate predecessor, Roosevelt, who relentlessly worked and advocated for freeing nations from the colonial grip and promoted democracy in those places. If Truman followed that path he and his successors could have achieved many of America’s objectives, including winning the Cold War sooner, could have been achieved at the fraction of the price America paid.  


A similar long trail of costly consequences could have been avoided if Iran’s burgeoning democracy was not destroyed in 1953. Iran being a regional leader, its democratic success could have influenced the entire region, avoiding many wars and bloodsheds in the next seven decades. Prime Minister Mosaddegh was an ardent admirer of the Western values and Western leadership, he could have been a trusted ally of America. His sin was that he nationalized the oil industry to save his nation from British colonial looting. Again, when democracy is sacrificed on America’s account, America lose trust and confidence in the world and lose its moral leadership. America has long been paying a heavy price for a soaring cynicism and distrust around the world because of these failed policies. Along the process America pushed many countries to seek alliances with the communist powers, thus embarking more, and not less, on a confrontational path.


America rejected both Ho Chi Minh and Mosaddegh on account of being leftists. However, the Cold War was later ended and won by America through the visionary diplomatic engagements of détente with the Communist leaders. If this vision prevailed earlier, long bitter lessons could have been avoided.   


3. And the third major negative factor contributing to radicalism is an outcome of the collaboration of the undemocratic powers in the Middle East with Israel and the West in marginalizing and vilifying the moderate Islamist forces in the region. This is simply because they are popular in places like Egypt, Tunisia, Turkey, and many other Muslim majority societies, not only because religion matters a great deal in those places, but also, more importantly, their social services at the grass-root levels. Given fair and free elections, they would, most likely, come to power. This is exactly the reason why AKP in Turkey since 2004 and Ennahda in Tunisia in 2011, and FJP in Egypt in 2012. Obviously, the undemocratic forces, both in the region and in the West, do not like moderate Islamists.


There are many reasons Israel does not like any democratic development among its Arab neighbors including Palestine. This is not only because Israel is most disliked and distrusted in the region, and the peoples must be controlled by authoritarian regimes in order to serve Israel’s interests. But also equally important is that so that Israel can vilify Hamas as a terrorist organization so that Israel does not have to sit down with them in a peace process, the same way Israel avoided the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) for thirty some years and avoided a negotiated peace settlement. Israel’s wish prevails.


This scheme often has dehumanized and disbanded the most potent force against radicalism. For example, since the Muslim Brotherhood became non-violent and renounced violence in their ideology in 1973, the organization has influenced many major armed movements to become non-violent also in places like Egypt, Algeria, Yemen, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan. This trend could have continued at an accelerated rate, as time progresses, had democracy flourished in the region and MB would become a democratic force, just like Ennahda has become in Tunisia.


The consequences of this modus operandi have been devastating: seeing that moderate Islamists are continuously harassed, persecuted and politically disbanded, more extreme Jehadist and Salafist movements sprang up in places like Egypt, Tunisia, and Algeria during the long, repressive, secular, authoritarian regimes under the patronage of the West.


The vast young generations of the Middle East, 65-70% are 35 years or younger, have grown terribly frustrated seeing the way their basic rights are violated, their resources are looted, and their own leaders collaborate with the foreign masters to rob their societies. The breeding grounds for radicalism become ever more active.


In this global village, with an ever increasing awareness of human rights and dignity leading to an ever greater demand for freedom and democracy, in a world inundated with arms due to the reckless arms trade for the last several decades, the world is fast becoming an ever more dangerous place. No amount of surveillance and ‘war on terror’ can escape that reality. The radical organizations get fatter with constant sources of recruits and seized arms.



The only way out of this quagmire is a fundamental change in the mindset and modus operandi of the West towards the Muslim world. There needs to be a Marshall Plan and a paradigm shift, especially in the Middle East, the key area of radicalism.


The good news is that, if the past is any reference, whenever a positive change takes place, in which people have the trust and confidence, even the die-hard rivals and radical forces change and learn to adjust. Once a functioning democratic system is in place, with the help of the international community and/or with a world power, such as America in the case of El Salvador in the 1990s, or Russia in the case of Tajikistan in the late 1990s, the intractable enemies soon become polished politicians and partners in the system.


A process of dialogue and constructive engagement, always, marginalizes the extremes and empowers the moderates on all sides. A power-sharing or coalition-facilitating democratic system or a confederacy based on democratic principles offers forceful constructive engagements. This took place, besides in El Salvador and Tajikistan, in South Africa, Tunisia, Kosovo, Nepal, among other places. This is how rebellion and radicalism are changed into constructive forces in a society.


In places like Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, or Israel-Palestine, there needs to be a power-sharing or a federal system to produce a sustainable peace. Considering the long ethnic rivalries and sectarian tensions, or the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts, often fueled by American policies, a democratic system based on majority, such as that took place in Iraq in 2005 under the American occupation, has not worked and will never work. The rivals need to be made interdependent in a power-sharing arrangement or partners in a confederacy, with the goal to achieve broader integration. Over time, this may create a win-win situation benefiting all the parties. Instead of breaking them up into smaller states and thus creating another situation of perpetual rivalries among them. This has been the case since India split into India and Pakistan in 1947. The vehement rivalry still exists draining trillions of dollars in defense from both sides that could have been invested in social welfare for both. This is the key to the successful democratization of the Middle East and beyond that, can be sustainable in the long run, and very well invalidate and defeat radicalism.

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